Just seven miles from the site of the BP oilspill in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists aboard the Ronald H. Brown, a NOAA research vessel, have discovered large areas of dead and dying deep sea corals more than 1400 feet under the ocean.
The discovery was surprising, if not shocking for the researchers who viewed the damage via camera feeds from a robot submersable. Something sudden and toxic had happened to the corals and all evidence points to the oil and dispersants unleashed by the BP oilspill and its aftermath.
While the scientists cannot say for sure what has caused the die-off, they all agree that circumstantial evidence points to the massive BP oil spill just a few miles away.
There are several telling facts. For starters, the dead coral is found at the same depth as the now sealed Deepwater Horizon well. In addition, there is the proximity to the oilspill site as well as the suddenness and toxicity of the damage to the corals. All of the researchers say that this is something they have never seen before and potentially something very ominous. According to Kathleen Jones of the National Geographic News:
“About 90 percent of 40 large groups of severely damaged soft coral were discolored and either dead or dying, the researchers say. A colony of hard coral at another site about 1,300 feet (400 meters) away was also partially covered with a similar dark substance that’s likely oil from the BP spill.”
“Corals do die, but you don’t see them die all at once,“ said cruise lead scientist Charles Fisher of Penn State University. The discovery has caused real concern in the scientific community as the long term results of the situation are totally unknown, but as one scientist put it: ” This could be just the tip of the iceberg”
For my money, this is yet another warning of the danger of deep water drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels. We are in uncharted waters in many ways these days and the dying deep sea corals in the Gulf of Mexico are just one more indication that we need to make a paradigm shift away from fossil fuel sources and towards renewable energy from sun and wind if we and the planet we inhabit are to survive.
The team plans to return to the Gulf in December to revisit the damaged site, and to explore other new sites in the region. I will be looking forward to more information on this important subject. I bet you will be too.
photos courtesy of Penn State Photo Album